Who does Google trust? Who do they love to get data from about your local hospitality business? With the new, expanded, 10-listing One Box now showing at the top of Universal search for so many local searches, and with number of reviews being given a prominent place in this new One Box, hotel and restaurant owners need to get those reviews pouring in if they want to win a spot in the A-J Top 10. It could mean the difference between a full house and ghostly silence in your place of business.
Today, I sat down and looked at approximately 1000 reviews listed in Google Maps for hospitality industry businesses. The following is the list of sources I found Google currently pulling this data from, in addition to their own Google Reviews source. If you're trying to finesse reviews from your hotel or restaurant's patrons, the majority of the following 34 sources accept public reviews:
A Couple Of Things To Take Note Of
Tripadvisor.com is powerful. The number of reviews coming from this source is substantial. So long as Google and Tripadvisor maintain amicable relations, this is going to be a great place to send your customers. Chances are, they may already have heard of Tripadvisor.
As Yelp, Insiderpages and Citysearch have just made a miraculous reappearance in Maps results, you can expect to see tons of reviews coming from these extremely popular sources.
For hotels, motels, inns and B&Bs catering to an international audience, pay special attention to the many national extensions of Holidaycheck.com. If Spanish, Dutch or Polish is the native tongue of your valued guests, they may feel much more comfortable leaving a review if they can do it in their own idiom on one of these Holidaycheck sites. There are likely further extensions in addition to the ones I came across in my 1000 reviews.
The Climate Keeps Changing In Google Review Land
Since November, local-oriented SEOs had been trying to understand why Yelp, Insiderpages and Citysearch had suddenly dropped out of sight in Google Maps, adversely affecting the standings of countless local businesses. Just last week, this data reappeared, apparently due to a bug. The lesson here is that reviews from outside sources that count big for you today may be gone tomorrow, affecting your Google Local rankings.
Naturally, this would lead a hospitality business owner to believe that the safest bet will be to send patrons directly to Google's own review feature. You can pretty much count on the fact that Google will always trust Google. But, it's important for me to add here that, whether owing to a bug in the Maps system or because Google is trying not to annoy its partners, Google is not counting its own reviews in the top level interface of the new 10-listing One Box, nor the upper layers of Maps. One has to click in deeper to the expanded popup of information within Maps to see the reviews coming directly from Google being included. What this means, right now, is that if you have 10 reviews from Google Reviews, and your competitor has 10 reviews coming from Tripadvisor, only your competitor's reviews will show as a number in the new expanded One Box, potentially swaying clickthrough rates. Whether it affects your A-J ranking, I have yet to determine.
My advice would be not to put all of your white, ovoid objects into one wicker receptacle (sorry, I just thought you might be getting a headache over the eggs-in-one-basket advice). If your business is considering printing magnets, thank you cards or some other type of promotional materials in order to encourage user reviews, it might be wise to include a small selection of potential review sites so that your reviews are coming from an array of sources. That way, no change in Google's partnerships will have the power to kill your local rankings.
Still Feeling Fear Of UGC?
User Generated Content has the potential of being a bane or blessing for the hotel or restaurant owner. Nothing brings a warm glow to the business owner's heart like a rave review. Conversely, nothing makes the blood pressure skyrocket like a rant about your business' failings. Business owners can easily feel paralyzed by the fear that a not-so-nice patron may unfairly blast them in a review. Both things are going to happen to you, no matter how well you run your business. This is why it's important for you to remember that the same thing was happening before the Internet even existed. Your community's word-of-mouth press meant success or failure for your business. A rude waiter at a single dinner didn't spell doom, but a couple of food poisoning cases certainly might have. The conversation about your business is now taking place on-line instead of in your guests' living rooms, and the end result is one of both greater publicity and greater accountability for the way you serve the public.
This is a good thing.
If you put your heart into caring for your guests, if you consistently offer clean, comfortable lodgings and well-prepared meals, get ready to start hearing your praises sung in Google Maps. If you don't care much about your company and are putting your customers' needs at the bottom of your list, your business does not deserve to last. The ultimate outcome of the advent of user reviews will be better service for paying clients. The time to start catering with abundant energy to your patrons' needs is now.
Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.
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